Netflix's Tiger King was a travelling freak-show on four legs – but, arriving in March 2020, provided just the sort of deranged escapism the world needed to help numb the pain of lockdown. Eighteen months later, the streaming service has pumped out a lazy cash-grab sequel that fails to advance the story of Joe Exotic - for the simple reason that there is no story to advance.
Big cat magnate Joe is still behind bars, still claiming he was wrongly convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his nemesis, animal conservationist Carole Baskin. Meanwhile, his many enemies, friends and frenemies are negotiating life post-Tiger King, with varying degrees of success. And rumours continue to circulate regarding the fate of Baskin's missing second husband, Don Lewis.
So there really is nothing further to say. And yet, with tens of millions of subscribers crying out for further Joe Exotic content, Netflix has found a way. With series two, it has churned out five hours of binge bilge so tawdry, exploitative and low-rent it makes the original Tiger King feel like Laurence Olivier narrating The World At War. It's a dumpster-fire of eyeball abuse masquerading as entertainment and pumping industrial quantities of toxicity into the zeitgeist.
Exotic – real name Joseph Allen Schreibvogel – joins us by collect call from prison. He wishes he were free so that he could enjoy his overnight celebrity. "This is what he wanted: to be on every social media platform, to be on every billboard. To be the talk of the town," notes Exotic's former zoo keeper Saff Saffery.
And he holds on to the dream that Donald Trump might pardon him on his way out of the White House – until that hope is answered with a nope. But of course a pardon was never truly on the cards. And with little possibility of Exotic having a born-free moment, directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin struggle to build tension.
We are introduced to Eric Love, who flies around the United States in a private jet with Exotic's face plastered on the side to raise awareness of the case. Love has never met Joe, and Exotic's former husband, Dillon Passage, questions the campaigner's motives.
There’s a chilling scene in which Love and his team arrive in Washington DC for Trump’s January 6th March on the Capitol only to be sent packing by a crazed Maga woman. As they drive away they watch a live stream of violence exploding in Washington. Later, they send a limo to idle outside Joe’s prison in the hope that Trump will overturn the conviction. Even Exotic considers it a tasteless stunt.
With five episodes to fill, the directors seek to drill deeper into Joe's backstory by tracking down his former fiancé and his estranged brother. There are cameos, too, from Jeff Lowe, to whom Exotic signed over his GW Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma to keep it out of the clutches of Baskin.
Lowe denies orchestrating Exotic’s arrest on charges of hiring someone to kill Baskin and of mistreating animals. However, he has clearly been cast as the season’s villain, and various figures from his past are lined up to take pot-shots (in an episode amusingly titled “Lyin’ King”).
Baskin sensibly declined to be interviewed and went to court to try to prevent Netflix from repurposing old footage. That attempt failed, so her spirit is summoned via ancient YouTube videos. Goode and Chaiklin are meanwhile quick to revisit the mystery of the disappearance of Baskin's second husband Don Lewis, in the company of an amateur sleuth named Ripper Jack.
Occasionally, almost by accident, Tiger King series two arrives at a moment of truth. An animal rights campaigner notes that, though Joe Exotic became a cult hero despite his criminal conviction, Baskin has received death threats.
“The reaction to Joe was ‘hashtag free Joe Exotic’. Certain people treating him like some sort to folk hero when he was convicted of trying to murder this woman,” says Brittany Peet of People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals.
“The negative stuff we saw was ‘that bitch Carole Baskin’. She was terrorised for so long by Joe. Now these other people are coming after her.”
It’s a rare glimmer of insight grafted to a mouldering carcass of innuendo, exploitation and hillbilly voyeurism. And as good an argument as you will hear for turning off this gonzo junk and watching something else instead.